The INSPIRE Project, Inc.
107 S West Street
PMB #425
Alexandria, VA 22314-2824

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In 1988, the Space Research Institute of Moscow requested that NASA participate in its upcoming ACTIVE (not an acronym) project. ACTIVE was a satellite launched in 1989 with a 10.5 kHz transmitter onboard to study wave particle interactions and the propagation of VLF waves. NASA responded by authorizing a group of U.S. scientists to make ground observations and theoretical calculations relevant to ACTIVE.

A volunteer organization dubbed HSGS (High School Ground Station) was quickly established by Taylor; W. Pine, a high school physics teacher; and two amateur scientists, M. Mideke and J. Ericson. The objective of HSGS was to recruit high schools to help gather data on 10.5 kHz electromagnetic (radio) waves which might be observed on the ground. A large number of ground receiving sites were needed, both to enhance the probability of receiving the radio waves from ACTIVE, and to determine the propagation paths to the ground.

HSGS was envisioned as a test bed with several objectives. The first was to see whether high school classes could successfully complete a project that included mechanical and electronic construction and a rigorous data-gathering procedure. The second was to see if high school physics teachers could integrate the instructional material into their curriculum.NASA provided moral support and TRW (now Northrop Grumman Space Technologies) provided financial support to defray the cost of the packages. The packages included an electronic kit and 161 pages of instructional material. The packages were developed and distributed to interested high schools in California, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Many of the schools that received kits successfully operated them, recording the data on cassette tapes for analysis. The transmitting antenna on the ACTIVE satellite failed to deploy properly, however, resulting in a decrease in signal strength of about 30 dB. Even though no waves were observed on the ground, the teachers reported a very high level of enthusiasm in their students. The teachers integrated the HSGS instructional material into their units on waves, electronics, radio, and the atmosphere. The student and teacher enthusiasm proved to HSGS that continuing such a program would be very useful in stimulating interest in science in general and space physics in particular among high school students. This volunteer organization evolved into INSPIRE.

On May 10, 1994, an annular eclipse swept across most of the U.S., with a maximum coverage of the sun of about 88 percent [Espenak, 1993]. Since the Earth's ionosphere is primarily created by solar UV, and since radio waves in the audio frequency region propagate in the Earth­ionosphere waveguide, it is natural to assume that the eclipse had an effect on radio propagation and that the changes might be observable with INSPIRE or ACTIVE receivers. Therefore, the INSPIRE project made INSPIRE/ECLIPSE­94 a major observational objective. High school classes, observed before, during and after the eclipse. INSPIRE offered to analyze recorded data, using its network of volunteer analysts and more than 100 tapes were submitted and analyzed.

Kits and completed electric field receivers were offered for sale for about $60 (cost) to students, classes, teachers, amateur scientists and others to allow them to participate. Those with HSGS (magnetic field) or INSPIRE/SEPAC (electric field) receivers were able to use them, of course. Publicity for radio wave observations during the eclipse included Mideke [1993a; 1993b] and Taylor [1993d; 1993e]. Everywhere in the contiguous 48 states experienced at least a 48 percent coverage of the solar disk as measured by the overlap of lunar and solar diameters.

The Shoemaker-Levy Comet hit the Jovian atmosphere inJuly1994. The Italian INSPIRE team organized a special session to observe the phenomena with a widely dispersed group of VLF stations, recording from the very north to the very south of the Italian peninsula. The objective of the session was to understand if any triggered signals from Jupiter may have reached our atmosphere in the VLF range.

During the joint ASI(Italian Space Agency)/ NASA Space Shuttle Tethered Satellite mission in February, 1996, the European INSPIRE team made observations to support the electromagnetic experiments being performed with the up to 20 km long wire between the Shuttle and the satellite.

INTMINS included coordinated activities of MIR, INTERBALL and INSPIRE. Ariel and Istochnik instrumentation on the MIR space station injected plasma blobs and beams of electrons into the ionospheric plasma. Using plasma and wave instruments of the INTERBALL project and the INSPIRE Project VLF radio wave observations, the following scientific objectives were addressed:
  • Study the interactions between the ionospheric plasma and the injected plasma and electrons.
  • Understand the dynamics of the injected, artificial plasma in the ionosphere
  • Investigate the initial phase of plasma instabilities, the resulting electromagnetic emissions and their propagation in the ionosphere, magnetosphere, and atmosphere
  • Investigate effects of wave particle interactions
To meet these objectives, MIR was operated for two weekend periods each year, in April and November, from 1996 through 2000. During these periods. MIR operations were scheduled over the US, Europe and Russia. INSPIRE participants recorded their observations on cassette tapes, which were sent to INSPIRE data analysts for interpretation and to seek evidence of the MIR generated radio waves.

Yearly during the Leonids meteor shower period, a team of scientists and ham radio amateurs from MSFC fly a balloon to 30 km altitude. The balloon carries aerogels to capture micrometeoroids, a television camera to observe meteor trails, and starting in 1999, an INSPIRE receiver. Including the receiver was suggested by Flavio Gori from Italy, the INSPIRE European Coordinator. The objective was to observe VLF signals that might be generated by the meteors as they plunge through the atmosphere. Data is telemetered to the ground and streamed live over the internet.

2000 IMAGE
IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration) was launched on March 25, 2000. The Radio Plasma Imager (RPI) on IMAGE can transmit radio waves in the 3 kHz to 3 MHz frequency range, and propagation experiments have been performed from IMAGE to INSPIRE participants around the world. Operations continue with VLF transmissions to the University of Otago, New Zealand ground VLF receiving station.


In late 2000, an INSPIRE receiver was permanently installed at MSFC, and live INSPIRE data has been streamed over the internet since. Data from a second receiver, at the University of Florida Radio Observatory, has been streaming since 2001, during the non thunderstorm season, shared with Radio JOVE data. Starting in Summer 2004, data from GSFC will begin to be streamed and in the Fall of 2004, an audio/video stream will be established from Mt. Aurora, near Fairbanks, Alaska. The audio stream will be INSPIRE data and the video stream will be real time television of the aurora.This streaming data will allow schools that do not have access to good observing sites, schools with restrictions on field trips, or other restrictions to make INSPIRE observations from their classrooms or homes. The data can be recorded and analyzed, just like data from receivers that the students build.

Since the summer of 2001 INSPIRE Europe has collaborated with Ostfold College of Norway, in order to record VLF data in the Hessdalen Valley. Starting in 1984, Ostfold College and, later, the Italian Committee for the Project Hessdalen and the Radio Telescope of Medicina, Italy have been researching the intriguing phenomena of the appearance of random occurrence of light in the lower atmosphere. On March 27, 2004 a conference on Italian Research in Hessdalen was held in Cecina, Italy. Flavio Gori, the European Coordinator, organized the conference. William Taylor spoke to the Conference remotely.

On March 20, 2004 W. Pine, W. Taylor and S. Korgan, an avid INSPIRE observer met in Fairbanks, Alaska to assist K. Bissell and A. Fowler in recording raw material for a BBC Radio 4 show. Songs of the Sky featured VLF radio recorded during the trip, explanations of the phenomena and reports of observations of sounds heard from the aurora. These sounds have been reported by hundreds of people and are audible directly, without a receiver. They have never been recorded, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. In four days of observing and recording, there was almost always chorus and at night and almost always aurora. The show aired on May 31, 2004 and it was estimated that there were five millions listeners worldwide.


The INSPIRE Project, Inc.
is a NASA educational portfolio program